Going against the recommendation of the town’s integrity commissioner, Greater Napanee council voted 4-2 not to reprimand councillor Mike Schenk.
The Ward 1 councillor was under review for a possible breach of the town’s code of conduct following comments and a gesture made towards a senior town staff member during the May 23 council meeting.
Following that meeting a complaint was filed to Aird and Berlis LLP, the town’s integrity commission. That triggered an investigation by Laura Dean, a lawyer with Aird and Berlis LLP, with the results of her report presented to council during their July 25 meeting. Her conclusion included the recommendation that council should reprimand Schenk for his comments.
“The complaint asserts that (Schenk’s) conduct contravened the code,” said Dean. “First the complaint asserts that the member implied that a particular town employee, who is a senior member of town staff, was the cause of toxicity in the relationship between town administration and downtown businesses. The complaint further alleges that later in the meeting the member stated that the town employee, who was in attendance at the meeting, was sleeping. In addition the complaint alleges that at least one person who was sitting close to the member heard him ridicule the town employee when that employee was absent when asked to answer a question that was posed by a council member.”
Dean went on to explain the third aspect of the complaint.
“The complaint alleges that this conduct at the meeting was in addition to previous incidents where the member said the town employee was sleeping and another incident in which the member made a shooting in the head gesture as the town employee was speaking about a particular matter,” said Dean.
Though Schenk excused himself from the council meeting for this portion of the agenda, he was interviewed as part of the report and his responses were included in the presentation to council.
Schenk indicated his question about the ‘toxic’ relationship between town staff and downtown businesses were made in reference to an article in the Napanee Beaver, which had quoted CAO John Pinsent using that term to describe the relationship between merchants and the town.
“[The CAO] assured me that the issues that he previously had referenced as toxic was [sic] not an issue and I accepted that without qualification,” reads Schenk’s response. “I had no intention of implying that [the Town Employee] was the problem (as it was quite possible it was certain merchants were the issue and not him at all), but clearly I needed to know if
the issue surrounding the relationship between staff and the merchants was going to be continuing given the label used by our CAO at the previous meeting.”
The report also included Schenk’s response when questioned about remarking that the senior staff member was sleeping during a meeting.
“At the end of the meeting on May 23, 2023 the heat in council chambers was intense,” reads Schenk’s response. “I requested that the installation of ceiling fans be considered as I felt that
it was so hot that those conditions led to [the Town Employee] falling asleep as he appeared to be sleeping from my point of view. My concern was that conditions in the chamber were not appropriate for the comfort of all as it is quite possible that at the end of a long meeting in hot conditions people may nod off. I was approached by a member of the audience after the meeting who had wanted to take a picture of [the Town Employee] sleeping and I stated that was inappropriate and the issue was in fact the room. I meant no disrespect to [the Town Employee] if he succumbed to the heat and wanted conditions to be better so this would be less likely to happen to him or anyone else.”
As for the hand motion of triggering a gun to his own head, Schenk explained the action was to imply the matter that was being discussed at the time would be akin to political suicide for himself.
Though the town member in question was not named, the report did include a statement by them.
“I was not sleeping in Chambers during the Council meeting and to suggest otherwise is offensive. I have never fallen asleep in Chambers or in my office. If such a witness exists then the name of that person should be brought forward. I sit next to senior Town staff in Chambers. They can attest that the statement that I was sleeping in Chambers is false,” said the employee. “Councillor Schenk originally told the CAO he was joking when the Councillor was told the comment was inappropriate. Now the story is they have witnesses saying that I was sleeping. This is a serious accusation which I refute. The temperature in the room is a red herring. In fact, I prefer warmer temperatures then [sic] most of my colleagues and am often seen in the office with a sweater on when others are wearing short sleeves.”
Following Dean’s presentation, council had their chance to weigh in on the matter.
Councillor Bob Norrie put forward the successful motion that no action be taken towards Schenk.
“Respect works two ways,” said Norrie. “Why it didn’t happen with this senior manager (and why) didn’t (they) even go to you (mayor Terry Richardson) and say can we talk with Mike about this and settle it? I don’t know what this is costing the taxpayer, and the senior manager should know that. We’re wasting taxpayer’s money. So my respect for that senior manager is gone, to be blunt. I’m not going to say anymore because I’ll probably get a complaint, but I’ve had it with this behaviour. They could have sorted it in the back room.”
Councillor Bill Martin, who along with councillor Dave Pinnell Jr. was opposed to the idea of not reprimanding their fellow councillor.
“Both the subjects in question here, one is a staff member who has been long serving, hard working member of the community for a number of years,” said Martin. “Many, many years. Councillor Schenk as well has been a long serving councillor in his ward, Ward 1 and he’s always been, in my mind, always had his constituents at heart. I think the situation might have just got a little carried away. We all have to be careful of what we say and how we say it because words do hurt. I just find it hard to punish someone for basically doing what he’s done all his life.”
Pinnell Jr. added he didn’t see the harm in simply issuing a verbal reprimand of Schenk.
In response to the town staff member appearing to be sleeping, it was countered that they were actually looking down to their phone at the time. That explanation did not sit well with councillor Angela Hicks.
“It has always been the policy in my previous places of employment that when you are in attendance in the meeting, your phone is down and you are participating 100 per cent,” said Hicks. “I would just like to make this statement public that moving forward I don’t think it needs to be a by-law or a resolution, it’s simple common courtesy, your phone is not in your hand when you are in attendance at a meeting. It’s part of your job.”
Mayor Richardson hoped the matter could soon be out behind them.
“This is an extremely, extremely unfortunate circumstance,” said the mayor. “Not only does it hurt our employees, it hurts our members of council and it hurts our community. It puts a black eye on our community, which I don’t believe we need to do that. But we are going to move forward with that and I believe we have to move forward from that because we cannot continue to go down the path that we’re going down.”
-Council noted and received a deputation from Potentia Renewables, who spoke to council about their intention to build an energy storage facility on a 170-acre plot of land near Galt Corner.
The facility would include wind turbines, which would generate air that would be stored in a container underground to be used during peak energy hours and sent to the nearby Lennox Transforming Station. The project is titled the Quinte Energy Storage Centre and if approved would be built from 2026-29 and have a 50 year operational life. The site projects to generate 600 jobs and would come with a community benefit fund.
-Council approved Greater Napanee Fire chief Bill Hammond’s request to begin the hiring process for the town’s next deputy fire chief. Current deputy Kevin Duncan has stated his intention to retire in late September.
When asked if there were any internal candidates, Hammond said none had expressed interested but could still do so once it was posted externally.
“People don’t want to step into management positions in this organization right now,” said Hammond.
-In other staffing notes, council appointed Nathan Murphy as the town’s deputy treasurer. He takes the spot vacated by Nicole Davidson.